Mulan is the first Disney live-action remake I’ve actually been tempted to see. I haven’t gone near any of the others, partly because they feel more like a money-grab rather than a genuine desire to bring something new to these stories, and partly because I don’t actually have a lot of nostalgia for Disney animations. I’m sure I watched them at some point (but not all of them) but they weren’t important to my childhood.
Mulan, on the other hand, was a story that really stuck with me as a child. Not Disney’s Mulan, though. My first Mulan was a picture book on loan from a Chinese language library that my mother read and translated for me. I doubt I’d ever be able to track it down again, so it lives only in my memory as a simple half-remembered tale. When I think back to it, the experience of sitting on the sofa and seeing the pictures is more vivid than the actual story.
Only two scenes really stand out in my memory. The first is that her father let her go willingly. There wasn’t a whole lot of drama about whether she would go; her whole family was in on it.
The second came near the end, when she was outed. This happened because her commander in the war looked at her and thought, “Wow, this young man would make a great husband for my daughter.” So he went to her house after the war and asked to see her, and the truth came out. Not a very dramatic scene, but I’d always found it amusing. Also the commander’s reaction to finding out was surprisingly calm. (Mulan did not marry his daughter.)
These scenes aren’t in the movie and they aren’t in the original either, as far as I can tell. When I watched the Disney movie as a teenager, and I will admit to feeling disappointment that it was a different story. I like the Disney movie now – the songs are great, some empowering themes … and the songs really are great. But there’s always something special about the first version of any story you encounter, and for me, that is the half-remembered picture book I never even read myself. We’ll see how the new movie measures up to that.